Supporting a friend who’s grieving the death of a loved one is often awkward. When they are mourning the passing of their spouse, it’s especially tough. What do you say? What can you do? How do you provide support without being intrusive, offensive, or just saying the wrong things? While there is no pain like losing one’s husband or wife, knowing some things about the grieving process can inform you how you can help someone grieving the death of a spouse.
Remember what grief is.
Grief is usually associated with pain, and nobody wants to see their friend hurting. So we typically respond (often subconsciously) with the hope of taking away the pain. I think that’s why many people try to say comforting things that turn out to be awkward. They’re trying to alleviate the pain that simply cannot be alleviated at that time. It’s the necessary process of working through a loss. A person who experiences loss has to grieve because that’s how you work through the loss. Remember that every person grieves at their own pace, in their own time, in different waves and intensities of emotions. Supporting someone who’s grieving the death of their spouse means walking with them in their grief at their pace.
Sometimes your silent presence is the only support your friend needs at the time, especially at the beginning of the loss.
Often, grieving family members are in a state of shock the first couple of weeks (and sometimes longer). When my dad passed away, I honestly can’t remember anything that was said to me at the funeral. But I do remember who was there by my side, and it still means the world to me today. Presence often speaks volumes.
In the following weeks and months, be proactive to reach out.
After a week or so, people distant from the loss have moved on, unaware that the grieving spouse is far from it. This is when they may find themselves most alone, ironically, when they are more open (and less in shock) to talk with others. Continue to check in with your friend regularly. Set a reminder on your phone. This could be a good time to ask how they are holding up, how they’ve been feeling, and what you can do to help (questions that typically don’t make much sense in the first few days of the loss).
Understand a person who loses their spouse will always be in some state of grief. It doesn’t mean they’ll always feel pain.
But they’ll be processing life without this person for as long as they live. Holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries will always prompt memories. A song, a scene on TV, or a particular meal will cause emotions to well up, even years down the road. As a friend, be conscious of this. Don’t be afraid to ask about what these things meant to them and their spouse. Allow them to share as much as they’d like. Processing loss is often done through these kinds of situations, memories, or objects.
Finally, remember: grief is uncomfortable. The process is rarely easy. And it’s going to be uncomfortable for you, the friend who wants to help. Supporting your friend means wading into the discomfort and the pain with them, sometimes in silence and sometimes with encouragement, knowing that the process is healthy and intensity won’t last. That is being truly helpful, and I commend you for your loyalty to your grieving friend who is dealing with the death of their spouse.